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The Rob Fox Column
Columnist: Rob Fox

Tunnel Vision
8 August 2005


So here we are on the cusp of our biggest game in years and we still havent assembled a squad capable of winning the Champions League.  More pertinently, the general consensus is that we still havent assembled a squad capable of qualifying for the group stages at all.  Time will tell but, win, lose or draw on Tuesday, the inescapable fact is that next Saturday we face Manchester United in the Premiership. 

Anyone remember the Premiership?  Its that little competition where we have to squeeze 38 games in between our European endeavours.  Come next May, our position in that competition is more likely to be of primary importance to what happens next than anything else.  Now, without wishing to be reactionary, I have a feeling that a lot of David Moyess work this summer has been with that minor competition you know the one in which finishing 4th gained us entry to the Champions League in the first place in mind.  In fact, I suspect he has also been thinking about the season after next, and the one after that, you get the picture.

Just for a moment, forget that we are in the Champions League.  Now, take a look at our transfer dealings this summer, taking careful note of the amount of money spent, and compare it to that of our rivals.  Take your pick in that respect as to who you think our rivals are: Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United; Liverpool, Bolton, Middlesbrough; Newcastle, Tottenham, Birmingham; Wigan, Sunderland, West Ham.  Bracket us with whichever trio you see us as being at the level of, or whatever criteria you feel are appropriate, and make the comparisons.  Bear in mind our tiny, non descript, squad finished above all but the first three last season.

Now I know what youre going to say next we have the smallest squad imaginable and we have a Champions League qualifier to think of.  Our need is greater than theirs.  Putting aside the fact that we wouldnt even be in the Champions League but for David Moyes, ask yourself what exactly you expected David Moyes to have done this summer?  It seems some people expected him to bring in 10 top-quality players, whatever the cost, and mould them into a team capable of qualifying for and presumably then making a major impact in the Champions League at the first time of asking.  In 3 months... not like we were asking him to do it overnight or anything.

I mean, how short-sighted to go qualifying for the Champions League with such a small squad and without unlimited money to spend on bringing the squad up to speed for coping with the extra fixtures.  How ridiculous to worry about such trivia as temperament, work ethic, ability to fulfil a particular role in the squad, and fit into the excellent team spirit at Everton.  Just sign whoevers available, accept that the only reason their agent contacted you is because of the equation (Premiership team + Champions League = big money) and get on with it. 

Sorry to burst the bubble, but this isnt Championship Manager; this is the real world.  Anybody in any doubt that the real world is where David Moyes operates would be advised to look on Kenny Fogartys Toffeeblog and read the interview with World Soccer.  Then tell David Moyes hes a dithering idiot who cant make his mind up.  Walter Smith would have made sure we had a big enough squad for the Champions League, with as many exotic names as our opponents.  Dennis Roach would have made sure of it.

Theres no denying we have been given a tough draw against Villarreal, who finished third in La Liga, which is obviously no mean feat, and are a very strong side.  Maybe they will be too good for us, outclass us even.  Now, if Moyes had shown some ambition and given Parker and Emre what they wanted, well, wed be Newcastle and wed be out of the Intertoto Cup, and Moyes would now be demanding more money to give us any chance of doing well in the Premiership.  Quite what message that little outburst from Mr Souness has given his existing players about their prospects, or indeed the expectation of them, this season I wouldnt like to think. 

This summer Moyes was faced with a choice.  He could continue as he has been doing and steadily build a team, or what exactly?  Spend money we havent really got?  Bring in a few big names for the sake of it? Bring in players he wasnt convinced about, just for two games?  Thats what some Evertonians seem to be advocating. 

Lets look at the cases of Edgar Davids and Craig Bellamy.  If we had them in the squad we would probably be confident of beating Villarreal.  But what then?  Players are for the full length of their contracts, not just for Champions League qualifiers.  Right, cheers Edgar but you can whistle for your 65 grand a week in case Cahills agent finds out; and you, Bellamy, youll play wherever I bloody well tell yer!  Just dont, whatever you do, tell players what to expect BEFORE they sign, that would be stupid.

So, yes, Moyes could have done more to bring in quality players for the Champions League.  If certain articles are to be believed he could have talked about himself a little less.  This bit intrigues me.  What exactly did he say about himself to put some sensitive souls off?  Did he talk at length about his taste in cardigans, his love of Val Doonican and his trips to the theatre with Bill Kenwright?  Or did he talk about what he expects of players, how he operates and exactly what any new signings can expect if they sign for Everton?  Which is more plausible?  A few quotes from unnamed players in the totally unbiased Daily Mail or the comments of Phil Neville about David Moyess honesty and straight talking about work ethic and team spirit?

If you are still not convinced, think about what all of our new signings have in common.  They are all considered to be honest, hard working professionals.  None of them were linked to all and sundry by their agents.  They all signed with the minimum of fuss and all seem delighted to be playing for Everton.  Furthermore, judging by their words, they all seem to be under no illusions as to what is expected of them in terms of work ethic and playing for the team.  Oh, one more thing.  They have all, Phil Neville included, improved the quality of our squad. 

Champions League notwithstanding, our squad is bigger and better than at the end of last season.  Maybe by not as much as some people would like, but the simple fact is Moyes will not be pressured or panicked into buying players for short term gain if he is not convinced about their long term benefit to the club.  There is no doubt we are short on numbers, but to expect Moyes to completely overhaul the squad on a tight budget in such a short time is unreasonable. 

We may have a small squad, but bear in mind this small squad last year could afford to have Watson, Naysmith and McFadden playing only a handful of games.  Have another look at the huge squads of all our rivals, then cross out all the dross who never play, or even just look at the out list on Sky Sports News for most of our rivals this summer, before you start condemning our tiny squad.  Then remember that we still, amazingly, have money to spend on that lightning fast, deadly striker who is ready to walk over broken glass to play for the Blues.  Just remember they dont grow on trees. 

So, whilst I accept that Pistone and Neville are not the names we may have hoped for, it is worth looking a little more closely at these deals.  At the end of last season Pistone, along with the other out-of-contract players, was offered a new deal.  Clearly Moyes felt at this point that he could find a better left back and set to work finding one.  Many were linked, some looked at very closely Coco reportedly played in a behind closed doors friendly along with Ren Aufhauser but seemingly none were deemed good enough, or of the right temperament, to be recruited. 

It would seem that, with a left-back a clear necessity, Moyes was faced with the choice of gambling on an unknown quantity he had reservations about, with a transfer fee to boot, or a known quantity he had reservations about, with no transfer fee.  Pistone's ability to provide adequate cover across the back line will no doubt have also been a consideration, as well as the fact that all parties know exactly what they are getting.

If Coco performs consistently better for Newcastle than Pistone over the next couple of years then Moyes will be shown to have made an error, in the meantime there is nothing to suggest that he or any of the others are better than Pistone.  In an imperfect world, sometimes you have to compromise, and the upside is that more money is freed up to be spent elsewhere, such as on Phil Neville, who of course can play left-back in any case.

Reportedly, Moyes made the first move on Monday and Neville was an Everton player by Thursday.  Personally, I have a good feeling about this transfer, although I would have expected the fee to be a million less in truth.  Some would say this is a classic panic buy, but surely nobody seriously thinks David Moyes woke up on Monday morning in a cold sweat worrying about Lee Carsleys injury flaring up again against Udinese and thought to himself Hang the expense, Im getting Phil Neville just in case. 

Whilst the speed of the move is a tribute to the Neville family, Moyes will obviously have already been aware of his availability and have had him in mind as a potential signing.  Whilst I accept that the Villarreal game may have prompted him to become a priority, and even tempted him to pay slightly over the odds, there is no doubt that, age excepted, he is a typical Moyes signing.  At the end of his contract he will be 33.  Unlike Kevin Campbell, he is not a striker relying on his turn of speed.  There is no reason why he cant, like many other central midfielders Speed, McAllister and Bracewell spring to mind still be doing the business in that role well into his thirties.  Its not as though hes injury prone or over-played..

In terms of what he can bring, apart from the obvious experience and versatility, it is worth considering his role at Manchester United.  He has never been the main man, in a squad full of superstars, and had to come through behind his older brother to boot.  At the age of 28, supposedly at the peak of his career, he had a decision to make.  He could move out of the comfort zone, go to a club where he would be given a lot more responsibility and have the chance to come into his own, or he could be Brian McClair.  Dont be surprised if he is Everton captain this time next year.

So we go into our Champions League qualifier without Parker, Emre, Bellamy, Davids and van der Meyde.  Lets just say wed signed all five and put them straight into the team for this one.  Would they have been at their best?  How would they have linked with Krldrup, Davies and whichever three of last years dross were selected to make up the numbers?  In other words, would a team of strangers have gelled in the most important game, according to some hysterics, in Evertons history?

Or, have we forgotten that the team of no-marks who earned 4th place over 38 games had an indefatigable spirit that saw off many supposedly more talented teams over the course of last season?  Call me Mr Rose-Tinted Glasses, but surely the fact that they shook off an embarrassing defeat at Fenerbahe to put in a solid, winning performance against Udinese is testament to this spirit and belief. 

On Tuesday it will hopefully be 13 against 11, with our team spirit being the 12th man.  There is no doubt that both Davies and Krldrup have fitted in seamlessly and improved the quality of the team; similarly I cant see Neville doing anything else other than slotting into the holding role and giving 100% for the team.  The 13th man?  That, obviously, is our fantastic, passionate support which will undoubtedly have a major part to play in all this, even if most of us have to spend the first five minutes of the game finding our new seats. 

At least the Wyness Seat Shuffle will mean there wont be too many settled ready to boo Pistone when his name is read out.  More than ever, patience will be essential.  Many Blues are already making parallels with Bayern, but it is worth remembering that the approach to such games has changed dramatically since then.  In 1985, a 0-0 away from home was considered a great result, because you could go all out in the home leg. 

The onus has changed since then, with much more importance being put on scoring an away goal by most teams.  The home team tends to be cagier, especially in the first leg, with avoiding conceding away goals at least as important as winning.  1-0 is obviously a better result than 2-1, and in actual fact a repeat of the Udinese score line would be far from disastrous.  In fact, 0-0 would not necessarily mean the end of the road either.  Everton simply cant afford to be gung-ho, and we will all need to be patient.  Yobo and Krldrup could well have more important roles to play than the likes of Beattie over the two legs. 

Whatever happens, and (as Celtic and Newcastle have found out) there is no way of guaranteeing progress, we are entering a new season with a stronger squad than we finished the last one.  Given the amount of unrealistic expectation at present, Moyes could be forgiven for wishing wed finished 7th again, but of course thats not his style.  He will take it all on the chin.  But if we lose, and we blame the club for not preparing properly, or we win and then put even more pressure on them to get ready for the group stages, nothing much will have really changed. 

We have still made progress this summer more so than most of our rivals, who of course dont have to worry about Champions League qualifiers and such like.  Surely there is an irony in viewing the incoming transfers of clubs who have signed fewer players and spent less than us as more successful because they have less to play for than we do?

If you still feel the need to complain about our transfer market failures this summer, consider the alternatives.  Do you want a manager who takes full responsibility for his decisions, even if that leaves him open to criticism, and then retains a dignified silence when such criticism does come his way?  Or would you prefer to have a manager who gets his own way in terms of bringing in who he wants, fails in his first objective, and then demands more money to achieve his next objective, continually passing the buck and putting the pressure on others?

And no, Im not obsessed with Newcastle, or any other of our rivals for that matter.  But it seems some Evertonians are; some even citing Graeme Souness and Newcastle as an example of how to get things done!!!  Yeah, its real top-level management ability that, throwing more and more money at a problem until you find a solution.  Still, it seems some people are never satisfied.  Perhaps, if we get beaten by Villarreal and then Moyes publicly demands more money to compete, some people will appreciate him more. 

But, knowing Moyes, hell probably publicly say its his fault.  If some of you want to tighten the rope around his neck if he does, thats your choice.  There are no guarantees in football, no matter what precautions you take.  Just remember this: It is Moyes's philosophy and ideals that have taken us this far.  Why on Earth would he abandon those principles to win one tie?

In two years' time, if Phil Neville is playing for Rochdale and Emre is Player of the Year for the Champions and is collecting his award under the watchful gaze of Manager of the Year Graeme Souness, I will hold my hands up.  But in the meantime, lets enjoy being in the Champions League lets face it, that wasnt on the agenda when Moyes took over and have a little more faith in the pragmatic, thorough and methodical methods of the man who got us there.

And yes, youre right, he is not the Messiah, hes not infallible; he does make mistakes... but stupidly he holds his hands up when he does, doesnt try to pass the buck or demand more money to cover them up, and then he works hard to avoid making the same mistake again.  Now, seriously, what more can we honestly expect of our manager this far into his Everton career? And if we do fail to qualify for the Champions League group stage this time around, surely he deserves our unreserved support in trying to gain the same opportunity again next season?

No, Im being silly now, as if a squad as weak as ours, with the likes of Pistone, Naysmith and Neville in it could possibly finish 4th...  And, of course, there is every possibility that we wont.  Maybe Newcastle or Tottenham, both far more ambitious clubs than us, will instead.  If that happens, Moyes has a ready-made excuse anyway.  All he has to do is point out how much these clubs have spent to achieve it and blame the Everton Board of Directors for not backing him sufficiently to sign the best players. 

Well, it seems to work for everybody else lets face it, Harry Redknapp is the master we can all learn from in that respect.  He performed a miracle to avoid being relegated two divisions with the mess he inherited at Southampton.  Maybe one day David Moyes will learn that valuable lesson himself.  Honesty?  Straight talking?  Dont be so nave, David!  Youre asking for trouble with that policy.  Youll never join the Mid-table Mediocrity Managerial Merry-go-Round if you carry on telling it how it is... and youll never get to sign Craig Bellamy. 

And on Tuesday night, when were all packed into Goodison, dont forget that the likes of Mr Souness and Mr Jol will be watching on ITV2 and dreaming of emulating our feat next season.  See, even these proper, ambitious clubs only aspire to match what we have already achieved, so lets enjoy it for as long as we can.  You never know, we might even win.

Rob Fox

2005 ToffeeWeb


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